In the last article, we attempted to find an empirical basis for believing in salvation, exclusive of any type of religious system. However, that method can only take us so far. At some point we run out of data on which to base our conclusions. To go further, we need more information.
For many, that information is to be found in the world’s oldest book, the Bible—a book which is the foundation for the belief system of Jews, Muslims, and Christians, or about half the earth’s population. Muslims refer to these as “The People of the Book”.
Yet despite this common foundation, these religious groups do not agree on the nature of salvation. For instance, one reference work explains that in Islam:
“Paradise (firdaws), also called “The Garden” (Janna), is a place of physical and spiritual pleasure, with lofty mansions (39:20, 29:58-59), delicious food and drink (52:22, 52:19, 38:51), and virgin companions called houris (56:17-19, 52:24-25, 76:19, 56:35-38, 37:48-49, 38:52-54, 44:51-56, 52:20-21). Hell, or Jahannam (Greek gehenna), is mentioned frequently in the Quran and the Sunnah using a variety of imagery.”[i]
For Jews, salvation is tied to the restoration of Jerusalem, either literally or in some spiritual sense.
Christian theology has a word for the study of the doctrine of salvation: Soteriology. Despite accepting the whole Bible, there appear to be as many different beliefs on the nature of salvation are there are religious divisions within Christendom.
In general terms, Protestant denominations believe all good people go to Heaven, while the wicked go to Hell. However, Catholics add in a third place, a sort of afterlife waystation called Purgatory. Some Christian denominations believe only a small group go to heaven, while the rest either end up eternally dead, or living forever on earth. For centuries, about the only belief each group held in common was that the only way to heaven was by association with their particular group. Thus good Catholics would go to Heaven, and bad Catholics would go to Hell, but all Protestants would go to Hell.
In modern society, such a view is not seen as enlightened. Indeed, throughout Europe, religious belief is so much in decline that they now consider themselves to be in the post-Christian era. This decline in belief in the supernatural is, in part, due to the mythological nature of the doctrine of salvation as taught by the churches of Christendom. Blessed winged souls sitting on clouds, playing on their harps, while the condemned are prodded with pitchforks by angry-faced demons just doesn’t appeal to the modern mind. Such mythology is tied to the Age of Ignorance, not the Age of Science. Nevertheless, if we reject everything because we are disillusioned by the fanciful doctrines of men, we are in danger of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. As we will come to see, the issue of salvation as clearly presented in Scripture is both logical and believable.
So where do we start?
It has been said that ‘to know where you’re going, you have to know where you’ve been.’ This is certainly true with regard to understanding salvation as our destination. Let us therefore set aside all preconceptions and prejudices about whatever we may feel the purpose of life is, and go back to see where it all started. Only then can we have a chance at moving forward safely and in truth.
The Bible indicates that God through his only-begotten Son created a physical and a spiritual universe. (John 1:3, 18; Col 1:13-20) He populated the spirit realm with sons made in his image. These creatures live eternally and are without gender. We are not told what all of them do, but those who interact with humans are called angels which means “messengers”. (Job 38:7; Ps 89:6; Lu 20:36; He 1:7) Other than that, we know very little about them since the Bible doesn’t relate much information about the life they lead, nor the environment they live in. It is likely that there are no words to properly convey such information to our human brain, aware only of the physical universe we can perceive with our physical senses. Trying to understand their universe might be compared to the task of explaining color to one born blind.
What we do know is that sometime after the creation of intelligent life in the spirit realm, Jehovah God turned his attention to the creation of intelligent life in the physical universe. The Bible says he made Man in his image. By this, no distinction is made regarding the two sexes. The Bible states:
“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Ge 1:27 ESV)
So whether a female man or a male man, Man was created in God’s image. Originally in English, Man referred to a human of either sex. A werman was a male man and a wifman was a female man. When these words fell into disuse, the custom was to write Man capitalized when referring to a human without regard to sex, and in lower case when referring to the male.[ii] Modern usage has regrettably dropped the capitalization, so other than by the context, the reader has no way of knowing if “man” refers only to the male, or to the human species. Nevertheless, in Genesis, we see that Jehovah views both male and female as one. Both are equal in the eyes of God. Though different in some ways, both are made in the image of God.
Like the angels, the first man was called God’s son. (Luke 3:38) Children inherit from their father. They inherit his name, his culture, his wealth, even DNA. Adam and Eve inherited their Father’s qualities: love, wisdom, justice, and power. They also inherited his life, which is eternal. Not to be overlooked is the inheritance of free will, a quality unique to all intelligent creation.
A Family Relationship
Man was not created to be God’s servant, as if He needs servants. Man was not created to be God’s subject, as if God needs to rule over others. Man was created out of love, the love a father has for a child. Man was created to be part of God’s universal family.
We cannot underestimate the role love has to play if we are to understand our salvation, because the entire arrangement is motivated by love. The Bible says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) If we try to understand salvation just by Scriptural research, not factoring in the love of God, we are sure to fail. That was the mistake the Pharisees made.
“You are searching the Scriptures because you think that you will have everlasting life by means of them; and these are the very ones that bear witness about me. 40 And yet you do not want to come to me so that you may have life. 41 I do not accept glory from men, 42 but I well know that you do not have the love of God in you. (John 5:39-42 NWT)
When I think of a sovereign or a king or a president or a prime minister, I think of someone who rules over me, but who likely doesn’t even know I exist. However, when I think of a father, I get a different image. A father knows his child and loves his child. It is a love like no other. Which relationship would you prefer?
What the first humans had—the heritage that was to be yours and mine—was a father/child relationship, with Jehovah God as the Father. That is what our first parents squandered away.
How the Loss Came About
We do not know how long the first man, Adam, lived before Jehovah created a mate for him. Some have suggested that decades may have passed, since during that time, he named the animals. (Ge 2:19-20) Be that as it may, there came a time when God created the second Man, a female Man, Eve. She because a complement to the male.
Now this was a new arrangement. While angels have great power, they cannot procreate. This new creation could produce offspring. However, there was another difference. The two sexes were meant to work as one. They complemented each other.
A complement is something that ‘completes or brings to perfection’, or ‘either of two parts needed to complete the whole.’ So while the man could manage for a time on his own, it was not good for him to remain that way. What a man is missing, a woman completes. What a woman is missing, a man completes. This is God’s arrangement, and it is wonderful. Unfortunately, we never got to fully appreciate it and to see how it was all meant to work out. Due to outside influence, first the woman, and then the man, rejected the headship of their Father. Before we analyze what happened, it is important that we understand when it happened. The need for this will become apparent shortly.
Some suggest that following Eve’s creation only a week or two transpired before the original sin. The reasoning is that Eve was perfect and therefore fertile and likely would have conceived within the first month. Such reasoning is superficial, however. God apparently gave the man some time on his own before bringing the woman to him. During that time, God spoke to and instructed the man as a Father teaches and trains a child. Adam talked with God as a man talks with another man. (Ge 3:8) When it came time to bring the woman to the man, Adam was ready for this change in his life. He was fully prepared. The Bible doesn’t say this, but this is one example of how understanding the love of God helps us to understand our salvation. Would the best and most loving Father there is not prepare his child for marriage?
Would a loving Father do any less for his second child? Would He create Eve only to saddle her with all the responsibility of child birth and child rearing within weeks of starting her life? What is more likely is that he used his power to keep her from bearing children at that stage of her intellectual development. After all, we can now do the same things with a simple pill. So it is not hard to imagine that God could do better.
The Bible indicates that the woman also spoke to God. Imagine what a time that was, to be able to walk with God and talk with God; to ask questions of Him and to be instructed by Him; to be loved by God, and to know you are loved, because the Father Himself tells you so? (Da 9:23; 10:11, 18)
The Bible tells us that they lived in an area that had been cultivated for them, a garden called Eden, or in Hebrew, gan-beʽEʹdhen meaning “garden of pleasure or delight”. In Latin, this is rendered paradisum voluptatis which is where we get our English word, “paradise”.
They lacked for nothing.
In the garden, there was one tree that represented God’s right to determine right and wrong for the human family. Apparently, there was nothing special about the tree other than that it represented something abstract, Jehovah’s unique role as the source of morality.
A king (or president, or prime minister) doesn’t necessarily know more than his subjects. In fact, there have been some incredibly stupid kings in human history. A king may pass edicts and laws intended to provide moral guidance and to protect the population from harm, but does he really know what he’s doing? Often times his subjects may see that his laws are poorly thought out, even harmful, because they know more about the matter than the ruler himself does. This is not the case of a father with a child, especially a very young child—and Adam and Eve were by comparison with God, exceedingly young children. When a father tells his child to do something or to refrain from doing something, the child should listen for two reasons: 1) Daddy knows best, and 2) Daddy loves him.
The tree of the knowledge of Good and Evil was put there to establish that point.
Sometime during all this, one of God’s spirit sons was beginning to develop wrong desires and was about to exercise his own free will with devastating consequences for both parts of God’s family. We know very little about this one, whom we now call Satan (“resister”) and Devil (“slanderer’) but whose original name is lost to us. We do know that he was there at the time, likely charged with a great honor, for he was involved in caring for this new creation. It is likely that he is the one referred to symbolically at Ezekiel 28:13-14.
Be that as it may, this one was very astute. It would not be enough to successfully tempt the human pair into rebellion. God could simply do away with them as well as Satan and start all over. He had to create a paradox, a Catch-22 if you will—or to use a chess term, zugzwang, a situation where any move the opponent makes will result in failure.
Satan’s opportunity came when Jehovah gave his human children this command:
“God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” (Ge 1:28 NIV)
The man and woman were now commanded to have children, and to rule over all the other creatures on the planet. The Devil had a small window of opportunity in which to act, because God was committed to this pair. He had just issued a command for them to be fruitful, and Jehovah’s word does not go forth from his mouth without bearing fruit. It is impossible for God to lie. (Isa 55:11; He 6:18) Nevertheless, Jehovah God had also told the man and woman that eating of the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil would result in death.
By waiting for Jehovah to issue this command, and then successfully tempting the woman, and she then drawing in her husband, the Devil had seemingly put Jehovah in a corner. God’s works were finished, but the world (Gk. Kosmos, ‘world of Man’) resulting from them had not yet been founded. (He 4:3) In other words, the first human born of procreation—this new process for the production of intelligent life—had yet to be conceived. Man having sinned, Jehovah was required by his own law, his unchangeable word, to put the pair to death. Yet, if he killed them before they conceived children, his stated purpose that they should fill the earth with offspring would fail. Another impossibility. Further complicating the matter was that God’s purpose was not to fill the earth with sinful humans. He proposed a world of mankind as part of his universal family, filled with perfect humans who were to be his children, the offspring of this pair. That appeared like an impossibility now. It seemed that the Devil had created an irresolvable paradox.
On top of all this, the book of Job reveals that the Devil was taunting God, claiming that his new creation could not remain true based on love, but only by motivated self-interest. (Job 1:9-11; Pr 27:11) Thus God’s purpose and design were both called into question. The name, the good character of God, was being reproached by such insinuations. In this way, the sanctification of Jehovah’s name became an issue.
What We Learn about Salvation
If a man on a ship falls overboard and cries out, “Save me!”, what is he asking for? Does he expect to be pulled out of the water and set up in a mansion with an eight-figure bank balance and a killer view of the ocean? Of course not. All he wants is to be restored to the state he was in just prior to his fall.
Are we to expect our salvation to be any different? We had an existence free from enslavement to sin, free from disease, aging and death. We had the prospect of living in peace, surrounded by our brothers and sisters, with fulfilling work to do, and an eternity to learn about the wonders of the universe which would reveal the wondrous nature of our heavenly Father. More than all else, we were part of a vast family of creatures who were the children of God. It seems we also lost a special one-on-one relationship with God which involved actually talking to our Father and hearing him respond.
What Jehovah purposed for the human family as time progressed, we can only guess at, but we can be assured that whatever it was, it was also part of our inheritance as his children.
How Does Salvation Work
No one knew how Jehovah God was going to solve the diabolical dilemma that Satan had created. The prophets of old sought to figure it out, and even the angels were justifiably interested.
“Concerning this very salvation a diligent inquiry and a careful search were made by the prophets who prophesied about the undeserved kindness meant for YOU….Into these very things angels are desiring to peer.” (1Pe 1:10,12)
We now have the benefit of hindsight, so we can understand a great deal about it, though there are things still hidden from us.
We will explore this in the next article in this seriesTake me to the next article in this series
[ii] This is the format that will be used in the rest of this article.
[iii] Holman Standard Christian Bible